I liked how they looked on her, those creases. Wrinkles curved around her mouth when she smiled…and when she didn’t. You could see her former struggles etched across her face and you could see her former joys crisscrossed on top of those. Aging, for her, was like the kind of weathering a sailor experiences – skin externally leathered from the Sun, but innards robust and healthy from the heavy lifting and extended exposure to all that fresh air.
Her skin sagged, giving the superficial appearance of something limp, something quite possibly defunct. But, if you looked closely you could see that the burlapped layer of weary flesh drooped atop bone made of granite. Despite her frail appearance, she had solid cheekbones, a firm jaw, and a steady gaze. If you took the time to really see her, you could see her vitality shining through the outer casing. Once you saw it, it was as though her flesh became transparent. Her spirit blinded.
She was one of those Beautiful People.
I don’t mean the ones with the clearest complexions or the most toned thighs. The most beautiful people are the ones who are comfortable in their own skin.
She didn’t need the spotlight on herself, she didn’t need to be the top performer in every show. The most beautiful people are the ones who lift other people up.
She knew her whole self, and she loved all of her parts. Even the really ugly bits she treated with compassion and care. The most beautiful people are those who always work to become better versions of themselves.
She was one of the ones who had been through hell, and who had always remained determined to come out on top. The most beautiful people are the fighters.
She wasn’t afraid to expose her true self. She never denied her flaws. She never hid her strengths. The most beautiful people are the ones who are real.
I liked the way they looked on her because I could tell that it wasn’t that her skin was sagging and lifeless, but rather that her whole self was uplifting. Her epidermis was the only piece of her that couldn’t keep up. She saw me admiring her and she returned my stare with a close-mouthed smile, one that only hinted at the kindness buried just beneath the surface. She pulled me towards her with bird-like arms and squeezed and I was reminded, again, that she was stronger than she looked. I leaned in and rested my head on her shoulder, eager to be held, if only for a few seconds. I foolishly wished that some of her beauty would rub off on me, that like her perfume, some of it would linger after she let go.
There’s so much work involved in just pretending to look like being a functional adult, it’s common to feel over-worked and under-appreciated. There’s a lot of aspects to adult life that really suck. Taking care of the bills, the trash, the dirty dishes, the piles of laundry. Cleaning up messes, picking up toys, and wiping up spills. Filling out the never-ending-Godforsaken work forms, the relentless (and often pointless) data collection sheets, the before-work and after-work and lunchtime meetings. Dealing with the idiot co-workers and the idiot bosses and the idiot customers and doing all of these things without losing your shit. Day. After. Day.
Being a successful grown-up person requires a crapload of work. But, being a successful married individual requires even more.
Each person has their own way of doing things and their own viewpoints about what things are high priority and what is completely and utterly unimportant (generally there is an inverse relationship between Partner A’s List of All Things Important compared with Partner B’s). Negotiating with each other, without compromising your values and sense of self, requires a delicate balance and a lot of alcohol patience. It’s worth it, though, when we’ve found The One. Having a companion who we cherish and admire, who loves and adores us right back, flaws and all, is one of the best things on the planet. Out of everyone on this Earth, the one person we most want to appreciate us, and all of our hard work, is our spouse.
Which often leads us to conversations like these:
SCENARIO 1: As I’m changing my daughter’s diaper I say to my spouse, “Oh my God, I just got poop on my hand! Quick, hand me a wipe!”
TEAMWORK: Spouse jumps up deftly and passes me a baby wipe faster than you can say, “Ew Ew Ew Ew Ew” five times fast.
COMPETITIVE EDGE: After handing me the wipe, Spouse casually mentions, “I had WAY more poop on me yesterday morning. She pooped on me, explosively, when I took off her diaper”.
SCENARIO 2: My spouse wakes up in the morning and complains, “I’m so tired”.
TEAMWORK: I feel badly about the fact that Spouse’s day is already starting out so rough, so I go downstairs and make a protein shake for Spouse to take for breakfast.
COMPETITIVE EDGE: …but not before I letting Spouse know how much more tired I am first, “I’m soooooo tired. The kids got up three times and I couldn’t fall back asleep, so I’ve been up since 2:30 a.m.”.
SCENARIO 3: After the birth of our second child (and nine solid months of reflux) I told my spouse, “I’m so glad I don’t have heartburn anymore!”
TEAMWORK: “Yeah. Heartburn really sucks,” spouse says, nodding in support.
COMPETITIVE EDGE: Spouse then adds, “especially when it’s so bad you have to go to the E.R.” (spouse did). “By yourself” (spouse did). “I know, I feel badly about that,” I concede. It doesn’t stop there. “You went out to coffee with your friends” (I did….ok maybe I really met them for a beer. But, shhh don’t tell him). (Spouse’s heart was just fine).
SCENARIO 4: A lot of things need to be taken care of in a household. Yard work. Cleaning. Finances. Blah blah blah. Boring stuff that makes you sometimes wish you were a kid again, until you remember that as an adult you can purchase alcohol and no one can stop you from eating nothing but nacho cheese Doritos for dinner, if you really want to. Adulthood means Freedom! Unfortunately the road to freedom is paved with endless chores.
TEAMWORK: We each have “our” jobs we do around house. We divide and conquer, and we do so quite well. We each have our own things we care about – so that means that everything gets cared for. For example, I care about the kitchen (dishes put away, counters clean, everything in its place) and the laundry (everything clean and folded and put away each week) and the family fun factor (fun, silly and engaging interactions). My spouse cares about the finances (long term savings, how much we spend on the electric bill), safety of us and our possessions (doors locked, garage door shut) and the yard.
COMPETITIVE EDGE: I’m quite sure we subconsciously sabotage each other’s efforts at times, Spouse leaves 700 (give or take) dirty dishes on the counter directly above the dishwasher each week and always leaves the hand towel on the counter, instead of hanging it back up on the towel rack. I leave the lights on, in every room, you can retrace my path by following the lit bulbs. Spouse insists (wrongly) that watching television is an interactive event. I spend hundreds of dollars over budget on frivolous things, then complain that I don’t make enough money. He leaves his folded laundry piled up on the folding table until it reaches the ceiling. I may or may not sometimes leave the front door unlocked (and possibly gaping open). This type of subversive competition is the ultimate test of marriage strength: can we, as a couple, deal with the other’s laxity without cracking?
SCENARIO 5: At a certain point in a marriage, there are no secrets left. Personal grooming that used to happen behind closed doors becomes more of a shared experience. Over time, people just get more comfortable with one another. And, at least for people like us, we also tend to get more hairy.
TEAMWORK: One spouse shaves the other’s neck, and back, and fields the question, “Is my back getting really hairy?” with, “Oh, it doesn’t matter”. One spouse plucks the other’s eyebrow(s). One spouse gets pregnant and the other needs to help shave her legs ….and stuff…that can no longer be reached. One spouse clogs every drain with the constant shedding of Chewbacca-like tresses, while the other spouse cleans the clogs out on a regular basis.
COMPETITIVE EDGE: No solid couple can resist letting the other know, “Your moustache needs to be waxed”, or “Your eyebrows are starting to connect to your back hair”.
The ultimate measure of a good marriage is whether or not you love the person you are united with more than you are annoyed by them. If you happen to have that much affection for the one you spend almost all of your personal time with, you are really a lucky duck. I’m one of those luckies.
“I love you”, my spouse always says. So naturally my usual reply is, “I love you more”.
You know I want to hear your marriage teamwork/competition scenarios. Let me hear ’em!
You know how when you sing, sometimes you can’t hear when you’re off-key? It seems like a lot of people tend to think they are better at singing than they actually are (especially after imbibing adult beverages) but, not me. I can hear my off-key-ness LOUD and CLEAR and you know if YOU can hear it, it must be really bad. Really really.
So, it was a surprise to me after Baby Grouch Numero Uno was born that I found myself singing to her, often. As she has grown, she loves to sing, and we are constantly singing, all of the traditional nursery rhymes we hear on Pandora (Nursery Rhyme Radio) or YouTube (Have you checked out Super Simple Songs yet? If not, you MUST) or that she has learned at daycare, and of course the Michigan State Fight Song (gotta brainwash ’em early). But more often than not we are making up lyrics on the spot, using the same beat to sing different versions of songs, or making up lyrics to describe what we are doing at the moment, or to just have fun and be silly.
Case in point:
Happy and Sad ABC’s
We always sing the ABC’s while washing hands. Somehow Toddler Grouch started singing bits of the song in a frenetic and goofy tone, “aybeceedee eeeeffGEE!” while smiling and bobbing her head and rubbing her hands back and forth vigorously, and singing other bits super slowly, with a mournful tone, slowly swaying from side to side, the corners of her mouth turned down, faking a sad version of the tune, “ayyyyy beee ceeeee deeee eeeee eeefff geeeeeeeeeee”. If I don’t make my fake-frown frowny enough, she stops me, “Mom, sing it with your mouth!” It’s hilarious. We giggle.
Case in point 2:
Silly Word Pattern ABC’s
I have no idea why, but ever since Toddler Grouch could speak “tunu” meant ABC’s. I have no explanation for this, and it took us a looooong time to figure out what she wanted when she said, “tunu” but we eventually figured out that this meant the ABC song. Every now and again we sing the ABC’s like this:
w-x-y and tunu.
Now I know my a-b tunus,
next time won’t you tunu with me?
One of our favorite Super Simple songs is the Good Morning, Mr. Rooster song, which I realize might seem ridiculous coming from the Morning Grouch, but maybe I sing it just as much for me as for her. It’s really cute.
Good Morning Mr. Rooster Lyrics – by Super Simple Songs
Good morning. Good morning. Good morning to you.
Good morning, Mr. Rooster,
Sometimes we sing the original version, but we often remix it up a bit:
The Good Morning Song
Good Morning. Good morning. Good morning to you.
Good morning, Little Grouchy,
Mama loves you.
(Repeat as needed)
Remix for two kids: Replace “mama loves you” with “and (insert kid’s name here) too!”
Sometimes we use the same beat to get her moving towards the bathroom:
The Potty Song
Good morning. Good morning. Good morning to you.
Let’s go pee on the potty.
And, maybe poo.
*Remix: replace poo with toot. Farts are always funny.
Songs just make everything easier. And happier.
Here are a few that are sung to the tune of Mary Had A Little Lamb:
The Nap Song
Now it’s time to
take a nap, take a nap, take a nap,
Now it’s time to take a nap,
It’s time to lay in bed.
Lay your head on
the pillow, the pillow, the pillow,
Lay your head on the pillow
It’s time to get some rest
Do you want to
read a book, read a book, read a book?
Do you want to read a book
Read a book with me?
The Let’s Change Your Poopy Diaper Song
It’s time to change your
diaper now, diaper now, diaper now,
It’s time to change your diaper now,
let’s clean up your pooooooooop.
* The longer you draw out the word poop, the louder the giggle
** Can easily be modified to accommodate a strictly pee diaper
Toddler Grouch’s favorite rendition of Mary Had a Little Lamb is the one I bust out when she’s acting all toddler-like. “No! No! I don’t wannnnnt to!” You know what I’m talking about. This helps lighten almost any mood:
The No Song
Toddler Grouch says no no no,
No no no,
No no no,
Toddler Grouch says no no no,
No no no no no!
Trust me, sounds too simple, but goes over very well with the target demographic.
The Brush Our Teeth Rap
This must be performed in rap version, swaying from side to side, bouncing the knees a bit up and down, with a sassy scowl on the face. Bonus points if you can do this dressed in a hoodie, or with a rasta hat on.
*Every “Ch ch ch ch ch chhhh chhh chhhh chhhh!” is accompanied with a hand gesture, mimicking brushing teeth.
We brush our teeth.
Ch ch ch ch ch chhhh chhh chhhh chhhh!
We brush our teeth
Ch ch ch ch ch chhhh chhh chhhh chhhh!
We get the bottom.
We get the top.
We go in circles.
We do not stop.
Ch ch ch ch ch chhhh chhh chhhh chhhh!
Ch ch ch ch ch chhhh chhh chhhh chhhh!
We get the front.
We get the back.
We keep them healthy.
We do not slack.
Ch ch ch ch ch chhhh chhh chhhh chhhh!
(Sung in theatrical high pitch): Do you have to spit in the siiiiiiink?
Eeeeee eeee eee ee ee eee eeeeeeeeeeeeee (spin the discs – don’t forget the hand motions)
We brush our teeth.
We brush our teeth.
We’re almost done. (remix version = let’s have some fun)
(Sung in theatrical high pitch): Do you want to brush your tongue?
Eeeeee eeee eee ee ee eee eeeeeeeeeeeeee (spin the discs – don’t forget the hand motions)
Pro tip: Stop singing when the kid stops brushing. Tell them you need them to keep the beat.
What are your favorite songs to sing with your toddler? Please, let me siphon your ideas.
My daughters come from a long line of strong-willed individuals. Before they were born Mr. Grouch and I wondered what our kids would look like, or what they would be interested in, but one thing we knew for sure. They’d be headstrong. Our girls have aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents, and, lucky for them, great-grandparents too, who are full of strength, who say to themselves, “I will be brave, I will not give up, I will not be stopped”, and who say to others, “I will be heard, I will follow my dreams, I will not be knocked down”. There is wicked strength within each individual and we, as a family, are a formidable force when our energy is corralled in the same direction. An unstoppable herd.
We are bulls.
Toddler Grouch is at the age where her bullheadedness can sometimes be frustrating. Like when she won’t put on her shoes, or brush her teeth, even when I say to her, “C’mon girl, we’ve gotta go! We can’t be late!” When she digs her heels in, asserting her independence and demonstrating her strong will, sometimes I call her my Little Bull. I place my hands by my ears, point my fingers up like horns, while I huff and shuffle my feet on the floor. She laughs and mimics the gestures, repeating the phrase, “C’mon, Little Bull!” Even when she doesn’t listen right away or when she blatantly disobeys, and I have to pull out my discipliny-mama voice, I’m secretly proud that she’s hard-nosed. There’s a lot of positive attributes to being a bull.
Mr. Grouch and I are both bovine in nature, both of us capable of being bullish to the max. Our individual ability to persist, to push on, to persevere has, for the most part, served us both well, and when we join forces, we are unstoppable. But, with any strength, comes complementing weakness. Bulls can lack grace. Bulls sometimes charge into situations, with their eyes on the prize, not thinking about the damage they may be inflicting upon anything in their periphery, with their bucking and banging, incapable of slowing themselves down. They can have difficulty seeing something from someone else’s perspective, seeing only the path that leads them towards their own passions. Bulls can be ornery and selfish. When Mr. Grouch and I are heading in opposite directions, the results can be brutal. We charge and we crash and when we’re back on track again, we have to sort through the debris, putting together the pieces that we unceremoniously smashed to smithereens.
As a family unit, we can not all be bulls. At least, not all at the same time. Four bulls in a house, all traveling down their own paths, means inevitable, even if inadvertent, trampling, wrecking emotional havoc and/or physical destruction. At any given moment, one of us needs to balance some of that brute force with a bit of softness.
So, how do we do that? How does a bull not act like a bull? Neither one of us can dramatically change who we are, but sometimes we can temporarily morph. We fill ourselves up, taking in all of the happiness and joy and light-heartedness that comes along with being happily married, and rearing young children. We swell with parent-pride, and transform ourselves into beings that are a little more graceful, a little lighter on our feet, with a little more bounce in our steps. Figurative bulloons, if you will. Kinder, stretched-out-smooth, versions of ourselves that make it easier to wipe off the shit-storms that emerge in marriage and parenthood, allowing us to more easily clear away unpleasantness and filth with a simple swipe, instead of allowing it to fester, stuck in our fur. Our bulloon selves are gentle to the touch, are buoyant enough to rise above our usual space of constant clamor, and are highly unlikely to cause any damage, even if we are to ricochet around the room. It works, for a while, until we deflate, landing on the ground with a thud, the floorboards creaking under our weight. Back to our regular punchy selves, we charge into action in our typical fashion until we need to fill ourselves up once again.
As a working mom, I have a love/hate mentality about leaving my kids in someone else’s care for what amounts to about 40% of the time my child is awake, each week. Sometimes there are things I think should be done differently, sometimes I question how well I really know what is going on there when I’m not around, and sometimes I have concerns about the sheer volume of donuts my child may or may not be consuming. It’s easy to get frustrated. It’s easy to get panicked inside, feeling like I may not be doing what’s best for my children, by sending them there. Because no one that I’ve found will take care of them exactly like I think they should. Of course, if I stayed home with my kids every day, I’m quite sure even I would not be able to take care of them exactly like I think I should. I am trying to take a step back and look at the big picture, and when I do, even with my cynical and critical eye, it sure seems like there is a lot to be grateful for. I need to remind myself of this.
They create stability and routine.Everything has a time and a place at daycare. Shoes always go in the cubby, coats always get hung up on hangers, and show-and-tell is always on Thursday. There is allotted time each day to play with baby dolls and listen to stories and create mini-masterpieces and no one leaves the lunch table without asking to be excused. This isn’t in the fake sort of way, like we have at home. They really mean it, and they follow through. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, daycare usually incorporates a catchy song that accompanies each time and place. My kid whistles while she works.
They get my kids to do things I wouldn’t be able to by myself. I can’t recreate the peer pressure of eleven other kids at home. The motivation to clean up, or stay in their seats during mealtime is often the result of being a part of the group, and being able to participate with their peers. There was a brief period of time when Baby Grouch would linger and let the other kids pick up all the toys, while she just looked at them and stared. “Nope”, she said with her eyes. “You guys can do it”. At home I utilized a few strategies to work on this. I was a broken record and said, “Clean up. Clean up. Clean up.” I told her she could do something fun, but only after she cleaned up her toys (and hoped that what I offered was a motivator that day). I physically held her and made her sit until she cleaned up the cheerios she spilled on the floor. But that gets tedious and would be ridiculously impossible to do all day, every day. Sometimes I just cleaned up the blocks for her. They did not have this problem at daycare. Once she figured out that she wasn’t allowed to move on to the next group activity without doing her share, she became a cleaning speed demon.
They teach social skills in an authentic setting. I can’t recreate Johnny stealing Toddler Grouch’s light up bouncey ball or Susie giving her a hug and asking if she is okay when she falls and skins her knee. She says hello, she shares, she waits to take a bite of birthday cake until she sings to her friend and they take a bite first. It was a weird feeling when I realized my one-year-old had friends that I knew nothing about, other than their first names and fuzzy images of their faces. But it begins that early, folks. They play very well together, but of course sometimes they fight. My daughter got put in time out the other day for going on the slide and then putting her feet out, purposely kicking another kid at the bottom. I’m glad this happened. On one hand, I’m glad she got annoyed enough to fight back – I think she needs to be more assertive – sometimes she is so laid back she is the one who gets pushed around. I also want her to learn how to do so appropriately, and I know they help provide her with words to use so she can assert herself with her speech, rather than with physical force.
They clean up my kid’s shit. Seriously they wipe their asses. A lot. Not to mention spit up, puke, snot and other bodily fluids. I usually don’t mind changing diapers, but I am not under any illusion that my kid’s diapers are full of rainbows and flowers. My kid’s shit always stinks.
They put in a ton of hours. Our daycare is operated by a mother/daughter team, and they are open almost every day, and rarely have a sub. They open at seven-fifteen and close at five-thirty. They have no true coffee breaks or lunch breaks. During the winter, they must be sure to have the driveway shoveled, and, since the daycare is in the basement, they also have to shovel out the area in the backyard surrounding the windows, per fire code. Living in Michigan, this equates to a lot of time and energy. They run their daycare like a preschool, and have weekly and monthly themes, they have activities planned for every day. They organize, and clean and sanitize equipment on a regular basis. My kid is in a safe and orderly environment.
They provide sensory stations so I don’t always have to. They have fingerpainting and bubbles and sprinklers and moon sand and glitter glue. They turn paper towel rolls into pencil holders, hot air balloons and binoculars. They turn handprints into butterflies and flowers. They are probably so grateful for the existance of Pinterest. The kids play outside almost every day, in the summer and in the winter, and they return my child with relatively clean hands, even after she spends an hour digging in the dirt and rocks (one of her favorite things to do). My kid loves to stick and scoop and smash, and I love that she does this so often there, so I don’t have to clean all of that joy off my floor every day.
They go above and beyond. For every birthday and holiday, they make sure my kids feel special. They have birthday crowns and the birthday kid gets to lead group activities and get sung to. They have holiday parties with special outfits and special games. Our daycare sometimes gives little presents for big occassions. They pick gems from the “birthday box”, they get wrapped presents to open at Christmas. I’m paying them about three dollars an hour and they are using part of that money to buy my child things she loves – baby dolls, books, one of those horseheads attached to a stick. They don’t have to do this, because they are already making her feel special in the other, more important, ways. My kid is a teeny bit spoiled.
They provide a needed service, and sometimes a needed break. I’m not gonna lie, sometimes I go for a jog after work before picking up my kids. In my head, daycare is for when I’m working, so I sort of think of it as free babysitting at this point, even though they as a business have determined the hours and rate that I am paying for. I’m a better mama when I take care of myself, and it couldn’t happen unless I felt like my kid was in a safe place.
They love my kids. In their own way. They play with them. They hug them. They want them to grow into good people. They know them inside and out, in some ways maybe a little more than I do. At least a little differently than I do. And they get that same feeling of happy-sad when they grow up that I do. Sometimes, though, if you care about someone a lot, they don’t always measure up to your expectations. This can lead you to be tough on them. Which brings me to my next point.
They aren’t always nice. There’s a reason I didn’t decide to have Grandma watch the kids. She’s too nice. She’ll put on my kid’s shoes for them, and clean up their toys for them and will give in when my children scream and cry that they don’t want to do something. She will feed my children french fries and cookies and chicken nuggets every single day. She will pamper them. That said, it isn’t always easy to accept that my kids aren’t being pampered all the time. I remember my first heart-punch, hearing how my daughter “didn’t want to do anything for herself” one day. When she was six months old. Seriously? And I know there are times when the ladies might be a bit snippy. Maybe even a little shouty. I’m pretty sure Toddler Grouch didn’t come up with, “Don’t play those games with me”, by herself. It isn’t something you might want to hear, or think about, but let’s face it: they’re human too. As far as my kids are concerned, I figure that learning how to deal with people who are sometimes moody is a valuable life skill. That said, my natural instincts are to swoop in like a bird and snatch up my kids in an instant if I suspected any real abuse. I’d probably peck out a few eyes in the process, too.
They teach kids how to do shit. My kiddo was carrying and setting up her own cot at eighteen months. I watched once, peeking my head out from beind the stairwell and my jaw dropped. I saw her working with a partner to lift and carry her end of the cot, and walk it from the nap room to the storage closet. Then she went back and helped her partner (who was a little older and held her hand and reminded her where to go) carry hers. They get these kids to do amazing things. More things than I will be able to witness, since they can’t record every event or give me a play-by-play of the entire day. I don’t know when my child would have given up bottles, used a sippy cup, put her own coat and shoes on, sang (and danced) the hokey-pokey, the itsy-bitsy-spider, ring-around-the-rosie, counted to thirty, sang the ABC’s, recognized shapes, been able to safely climb up and down stairs, use a fork to feed herself, learn the days of the week, et cetera, if daycare hadn’t taught her. Yes, she would have learned it all, eventually, but she has certainly learned that she can do things independently at a much earlier age than I would have thought possible.
So, there’s the tantrums. And the screaming. The “Mine!”s and the “No!”s. The bazillion toys with annoying musical themes. There’s the feeding and the changing and more feeding and more changing. There’s the blowouts and the spit up and the adult-type vomit that begins at a much earlier age than you would expect. There’s the cleaning food off the walls and off the floor, out of the crevices of the couch, and strewn across every square inch of the car. There’s the wiping of snot off of faces, off of walls, off of everything. There’s the cost. Of formula. Of food. Of daycare. Of clothes. Of parties. Of braces. Of college. Of cars. Of housing. Of weddings. There’s the “Don’t lick the window!”s and the “We do not eat cat hair!”s and the “We don’t pee on the dresser!”s. And, for the love of all that is holy, there is the LACK OF SLEEP. And I hear it doesn’t get any easier when the kids get older. Maybe they don’t wake you with their cries, or their morning renditions of Elmo’s Song, but they still wake you, with the worries. Late teen/early twenty-somethings doing God-knows-what with God-knows-who on a college campus. The impending insomnia tires me out even more than the current insomnia does.
That’s what really scares me. The exhaustion.
But, there’s the cuddles. And the “Look at that!”s and the gasps of awe at observing something new, the quirky insights and the questions that make you think, even though they came out of the mouth of a human being that has been around for a shorter number of years than my current smart phone. There’s the laughter and the silliness and the finding happiness in the little things, every single day. There’s the joy that exists in me, that is multiplied exponentially when I see the same joy exhibited by them. There’s the comfort in the feeling of being a part of a whole. There’s the learning what’s important, from those teeny-tiny monsters, those miniature Buddhas-with-attitudes. There’s the being ridiculously happy just from watching them be themselves.
That’s what really scares me. Missing learning and growing from a unique perspective, missing another eye-opening lesson about what life is really all about.
Now that I have two little peanuts, who are similar in the important ways, but who are already oh-so different in every other way, it makes me mourn for who elsecould have been. It makes me wonder who else could still be.
A lot of people say they never understood exhaustion until they became a parent. That wasn’t the case with me. I’ve dealt with exhaustion from sleep issues, and depression/anxiety, so after Baby Grouch Number One was born I think I actually felt better in the mornings than I used to. I was tired, of course, but I was always tired and honestly having a kid just gave me an excuse to get up and keep moving, and I didn’t feel any worse, most of the time, so I just focused on the gift that is motherhood and welcomed the fact that I felt like shit, on most days. I felt the same amount of tiredness that I used to, but at least I was being productive, and I had newfound happiness.
But, once Baby Grouch Number Two came along, I began to understand how those other people felt. I hit the ground running. With two, there was not much time for resting postpartum, and I had to keep moving. I still do. There is no down time. The house is constantly a mess, my arms are constantly carrying my little ones, along with bags, bottles, books, baby dolls, diapers, wipes, sippy cups and peanut butter crackers.
So, there’s coffee.
But holy hell, I am TIRED. And even though people always ask, “is the baby sleeping?” it doesn’t really matter if the kids sleep through the night or not, it’s the cumulative effect of sporadic mid-night wake ups, waking up to pee, hearing phantom baby cries, hormonal changes (hello night sweats!?! ugh) and Mom Ears – supersonic hearing that cause me to wake up when my husband rolls over, or my daughter coughs, or when the tree branch scratches the window outside the dining room, downstairs, on the other side of the house (we’re getting that tree cut down soon).
There is not enough coffee in the world.
Recently there was a study about how moms are sleep deprived, even several months after giving birth. So, there’s the scientific proof. But we moms don’t fucking need it, do we? No. We don’t. We know it’s real based on the stupid shit we do when we’re in such a state. Here’s my latest:
1) I went jogging with a pal the other day.Which sounds good,until you hear the rest. We meet at a local gym (that neither of us is a member at), park our cars and jog from there. We are typically gone for about an hour or so. On our last jaunt, I was exhausted (shocker) and had to walk the last half mile. I got back to the parking lot and my pal was still there. I thought maybe I wasn’t that slow, since she was still there stretching, but NO. She was there to tell me, “um, your car door was open this whole time”. I left my car door open, for an hour, while we jogged. She looked concerned. I was embarrassed, since this was one of those friends who you really don’t want your crazy to show, you know? But, she’s seen it, that’s for sure, so oh well. Thank goodness I live in freaking suburbia because my wallet was in my trunk, safe and sound.
1b) I was reminded that I was also pretty loopy after having just one kid. I went jogging once and didn’t realize until about two miles in that I was wearing two different shoes.
2. I drink coffee all. day. long. I have to or I will stop moving. So I turned on the Keurig the other day and turn around and see this:
I forgot to put coffee cup under the spout. Eff.
3. I have to pee a lot, from all that coffee, but I’m even screwing up peeing. I went to the doctor and was supposed to pee in a cup before heading to the room. I went in, peed, came out, and realiized I forgot to pee in the cup. The nurse came in the room and gave me a quizzical look. I gave her a head shake, and a shoulder shrug while saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I forgot”. I had to laugh becacuse it feels like there is literally nothing I can do about this kind of crap. I accepted it, chugged some water and tried again later (I had to focus, but I was able to complete the task)
4. I got in a fight with my husband,I forget about what (of course). We were arguing and then went to the grocery store and then was so tired I forgot I was even mad at him. Probably for the best, but still. You know how annoying spouses can be. So that’s some serious tiredness to completely forget that shit. And then, I remembered what I was mad about later, and I didn’t even care. So tired.
5. I’ve lost two car keys in the last few months. Those fuckers are expensive. Did Toddler Grouch toss them in the trash? Are they in the basket they should be, I just can’t see them through my exhausted glassy-eyed gaze? It’s a modern day mystery.
I’m all about scientific studies, so YAY SCIENCE for discovering we’re all sleep-deprived. Even though we already knew.
Quite frankly, it makes me feel better when I hear that I’m not alone. It’s things like this (it’s HILARIOUS – click it!) from Momastery‘s Facebook page, that make me smile and think that what I’m going through is perfectly normal and perfectly fine. I can laugh at myself, (and let’s be honest, a little harder at the other acts of sleep-deprivation that are not my own) and keep on truckin’. Peace out, fellow Mamas, who do so much, with working brain cells so few.
Any sleep-deprivation stories you want to share with me, so I feel less alone?!
After having kids, shit changes. Anyone who argues this point is either a liar or is truly an asshole of a parent. But, I will concede that shit changes in varying degrees, due to the natural laws associated with Tiered Friendships.
Tier One: These are your closest friends. You communicate with them the most, they have known you for the longest, they know the details of your most intimate business. You do your best to keep in touch with them at all costs, before and after having children (sometimes partially because you don’t want them to turn on you and leak all of your dirty little secrets).
Tier Two: These are the members of your social group, who may or may not be friends due as much to proximity as due to heart-to-heart connection. These are the folks you may work with, play on a softball league with on Tuesdays, or on a bowling league with on Sundays, or DJ trivia with on Wednesdays.. (*Note that many of these events involve the potential for consuming adult beverages). You made an effort to stay in touch with them before kids, because you truly enjoy the activities involved, and their company, but these friendships tend to suffer dramatically after you have kids.
Tier Three: These are the ex-colleagues, or ex-roommates or ex-classmates that you really only know what is going on in their lives because you see what they are posting on Facebook. You didn’t make much of an effort to stay in touch before, and you don’t do much to stay in touch with them after. And you’re fine with that.
Below are some tips for keeping up with friends, as much as possible, within the confines of the chaos and exhaustion that ensue after becoming a parent.
1. Utilize social media. If you’re reading this blog post it means you’re likely a pro at Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or similar sites. While this might seem obvious, making an effort to comment on your friend’s photos and posts, “like”, “favorite”, or “heart” some of their photos and remembering to send a private message every now and again shows that you are seeing and caring about what your pals are sharing. Bonus, you can do this in your PJ’s while hunkered down on the couch, any time of day or night.
Do not be an ass and make a comment that brings the conversation back to you and your kids STFU parents style. That is no way to keep friends. Make sure to comment on what is going on with THEM. On your end of the social media spectrum, you need to make sure to not ONLY post updates and photos of your children. Especially ones that are over the top ridiculous. It’s hard, I know, to not post that photo of that first poop in the toilet, but no matter how beautiful that fragrant lump of brown fecal matter may be to you (it smells so much less like shit and so much more like freedom and crisp twenties dollar bills in your pocket, to you, doesn’t it?), DON’T DO IT. Hold yourself back, for the sake of your friendships. Remember when you used to post snarky ecards, or photos of your dinner, or hilariously cute cat videos? Keep posting that kind of crap, just like the good ol’ days.
2. Fire Out Fast Facts to Your Friends. My friends and I have a system we call “Three Things”. One of us sends out a group email with “3 Things” in the subject and the body of the message contains a personal triad of information about what we are thinking about or things that are going on in our lives at that moment. They can be big things like, “I finally told my boss to shove it and found myself a new job!” Or strange things like, “I sprained my vagina” (that was one of my friend’s Three Things once, I swear to God), or silly things like, “I’m thinking I haven’t eaten cherry pie in a while, and I’m super excited to stuff my face with cherry pie as soon as I get out of work. Pie! Pie!”. Our group has done this long enough that one of us initiates the email chain at least once a month, sometimes more often. Everyone has the time for writing, and reading, three quick bullet points. No one cares about grammar. Sometimes these spiral into many more group emails, sometimes they don’t. But no matter what, it helps us know what is going on with our friends, which is the most important thing.
3. Go out to breakfast. Who doesn’t like french toast, pancakes, eggs and bacon? NO ONE, that’s who. At least, no one worth being friends with (seriously, if you don’t like bacon I have some serious suspicions about you as a person). For parents, this is typically a great time of day to connect. The kids are fresh and perky, there’s no stressors from the day built up yet in our shoulders, and there are unlimited refills of coffee! Glorious coffee! Your friend isn’t a morning person, you say? Invite them anyway, and don’t hold any grudges if they decline.
4. Let them know they have an open invite to any of your kid’s events. We often neglect to invite our pals because we care about them. We don’t want them to feel obligated to come to some crazy party that even WE think will be obnoxious and overwhelming, where we can’t really focus on them anyway. We don’t want them to feel like we’re asking them to buy our kid presents. BUT, not inviting them can make them feel excluded, forgotten, and unimportant, even if they didn’t really want to come to the eardrum-splitting, plague-filled bounce house anyway. Tell them you just need to know that they are interested in advance so you have an accurate head count and let them make the decision about whether the potential for losing the hearing in their left ear, or leaving the event with regurgitated hot dogs and neon frosted cupcakes all over their shoes is worth it, in their mind, to see you.
5. Line Up The Workout Buddies. So, as moms we always complain that we don’t have the time or energy to work out or see our friends, even though we know full well that both physical and mental health is supremely important. Solution? Meet up with friends at the gym, or outside for a jog. The conversation we can have the 5 minutes before and after our class starts, and the little moments of connection during a class may be all we need to help ensure you’re connecting, while toning our thighs so they look better in our mom jeans. Extra bonus: we might be able to snag a quick glass of wine right after yoga every now again, if the stars align. This one might be easier said than done, but for some of us, it can work.
6. Send notes. Short and sweet. Ridiculous. Funny. In the mail. Through the interwebs. Through Pinterest. Through tweets. Whatever. Just freaking say hi. You can do this. And, bonus, you can do this at 2.30 in the morning or whenever you’re up. Even if you haven’t contacted someone in 6 months, don’t be shy. A little note saying, “I’ve been thinking of you. How are things?” can go a long way.
7. Keep a friend contact chart. Okay, you’ll need to embrace your inner Type A personality for this one. If you’re feeling super brain-dead, keep a list of the top friends you want to make sure you don’t neglect, leave it on the fridge, and make a tally mark when you make contact. Sounds absolutely insane, I know, but c’mon, you know we parents are capable of forgetting EVERYTHING, sometimes even who our best friends are. Hell, I walked into the bathroom to give a urine sample at the doctor the other day and somehow FORGOT TO PEE IN THE DAMN CUP. Mommy-brain is real.
8. Acknowledge that you know you are spending less time with them and that you miss them. But just can’t make it work right now. Don’t completely drop off the face of the Earth. That’s just rude.
9. Ditch work early and head to happy hour sometime. Meeting up for one drink, for one hour can feel like a vacation. Does this even really need an explanation?
10. Every now and again, get that babysitter. There becomes a certain point for most parents where if you’ve literally NEVER had a night out, you’re making a conscious choice to seclude yourself. For every family, this cut-off point is different, depending on whether you have family available to watch the kids, or if you have a child with special needs. Since it can’t happen often, make it easier by bundling friends – have a night out every few months that includes a large group of people – a night out to dinner, or an overnight. My friends and I utilize my parent’s cottage (thanks, mom and dad!) and I make a huge effort to host two Girls Weekend events a year. Sometimes I only see those friends during those two nights throughout the entire year, but I relish them, and I think they do to. Even if they can’t all attend, they will appreciate the invitation and the fact that you made yourself available.
Good luck balancing work, home, family, marriage, children and personal alone time! It’s no easy feat.
A few years back, when I was pregnant with my first child, some of my friends and I were gathered around my living room, chit-chatting it up. I don’t remember the details of most of our conversation, but I will never forget one particular sentence. A good friend of mine, who at the time was the new mom of an seven-month-old, said, “I think I love my daughter more than anyone has ever loved their child”. I laughed and looked around at the other people in the room to make the “oh-my-goodness-isn’t-that-so-dramatic-and-hilarious” eyeball connection, and when my eyes circled back to my friend’s face, I was startled by her expression. She was smiling, but she wasn’t laughing. She was serious. She thought she loved her kid more than anyone had ever loved theirs, ever before.
I have known this friend for almost twenty years, she is strong, she is smart, she is not one to make flaky, flippant remarks, so I was caught off guard by her statement. I finished my now slightly uncomfortable giggle and looked down at my swollen belly. Having struggled with infertility, I did not take my pregnancy for granted; I wanted that child I was carrying so badly. I already loved her. But more than anyone else, ever? That seemed a little absurd and presumptuous and slightly creeperish and definitely impossible to measure.
Of course, I hadn’t yet began the process of mothering a child, outside the womb, when I thought she was joking about her champion loving ability. Now that I am right in the thick of that mothering process, with two girls of my own, I understand. I totally get it.
I get that feeling of tiger-like fierceness when I think of my child getting hurt. I get that gripping fear that something will happen, something unthinkable, and I have to force those thoughts away, because just dwelling on the mere concept that bad things could hypothetically occur can bring me to my knees.
I get that melty feeling of softness when I stroke my kid’s hair, or kiss the back of her head, or touch her shoulder when she’s standing next to me, gripping my thigh with her palms. I get a feeling of absolute tranquility and peace when we do things as ordinary as sit together on a park bench, smiling at each other and sharing a snack, as the sun beams down on our heads. I never thought that clumsy, awkward me would be capable of acts so tender, yet I have come to find that when I am with my children, it is second nature, and I am transformed from a bumbling oaf into a graceful nurturer, and this newfound gentle me, this me I didn’t even know existed before, is one of my favorite mes.
I get that feeling inside when my kid achieves a new feat, that bubble of pride inside of me that expands as it rises and makes my chest puff out as I think, she’s growing up so fast! coupled with the backhanded feeling of sadness, she’s growing up too fast. I never realized it was possible to simultaneously feel so happy and so sad about the exact same event. It’s terrifying, really, how something as simple as switching your child from a crib to a toddler bed can evoke so much emotion.
I get that the cuddles and hugs and the ability to peer in on my children’s faces as they sleep are all luxuries, even if they do not always seem to come cheap. Yes, I pay for these gifts with a stretched out body, and wrinkled eyes, and excursions out in public with unbrushed hair and spit up on my jeans. Yes, I pay the price with a right hip and right shoulder and right ribs that constantly get shifted out of place, that I then literally pay the price to get fixed by my osteopath on a regular basis. I realize, though, that I am truly getting a bargain, even with these seemingly hefty tolls.
I get that eventually I will get a lot more sleep and a lot less affection. I know that their requests for hugs and kisses, their demands to be held, their need to hide behind my legs when feeling shy, or upset, will not last long. I understand that the occasional wiggle to shake my hand off of their backs, or the “no, Mama, don’t touch me” remarks will continue to increase and eventually I will no longer have the excuse, or the right, to touch my children as much as I want to. They will, some day soon, no longer be physically connected to me all of the time, and while of course I want them to grow and mature, it also makes me sad because there is nothing on this planet that feels better than being in contact with them. Just like they love to hold their blankies to their chests, or snuggle them in their arms, I love the feeling of my children draping themselves over me. I even like it when they touch me with their toes, a dirty, stinky, little message of I love you, I need you, pressing against me. My girls needing me may have made me seek out a chiropractor, or a glass of wine, or, at times, even a vacation, but more than anything else their neediness has made me need them right back.
Their constant physical presence require that I be my best self. Amidst the chaos and the crumbs and the dodging of the plastic objects on the floor, they have forced me to work on finding happiness, and finding peace and finding balance. I didn’t really need to work on those areas of myself until I became a parent and wanted to ensure I was the best role model and the best mama I could be. And while it isn’t always easy, they make me laugh, even when I don’t feel like laughing, and they make me appreciate the beauty in ordinary life, that I very likely would otherwise ignore. Plus, they make me clean all the dirty crevices in my house on a regular basis. They make me happier than I ever thought was possible, and I have been made into a better person just by being near them. Will I be able to keep this up, without their push? Each new feat they perform is a sharp, jabbing reminder that pretty soon they won’t need me anymore, even if I still need them.
I think back to my friend’s comment about how much she loved her daughter and just like then, I still find her sentiment to be a tad bit silly – except now I think so for a very different reason. I now know it was silly because I’m the one who loves my kids the most. Out of anyone, ever. I am sure of it. Her idea that I had once thought to be sweet, but slightly irrational, I now not only subscribe to, but believe to have beaten the record. I don’t care how impossible it is to measure, I am certain that I love the most. She surely will protest this, but I don’t feel badly about battling her for the title, because there really can be no losers in a competition to out-love someone, can there? Everybody participating wins.